Officials in Potter County, where water testing continues after a natural gas drilling accident in September, are calling on state regulators to host a public meeting assessing the damage and crisis response to it, while also helping to dispel rumors exaggerating the impact.
Led by commissioners Paul Heimel and Doug Morley, both of whom are seeking re-election next month, the official request asks the DEP to hold a public meeting in Potter County to share information about the chemical release and address local concern and speculation.
In an email to The Era from Heimel, the commissioners say they’re encouraging the DEP, Coudersport Borough and Cole Memorial Hospital to “make public as soon as possible the results of water sampling taken at the borough's public water supply in east Coudersport and the public water supply servicing Cole.”
Heimel said he hopes to clear up “erroneous reports” claiming those water sources were polluted by the spill, when, in fact, “the truth is that no test results have been made public.”
“The sooner those results are made public, the better,” he added.
The screening process itself has come under fire from residents and advocates who feel the testing, largely overseen by state regulators and the energy industry itself, has been inconsistently applied, and shrouded in secrecy.
Others complain that the driller responsible, JKLM Energy of Wexford, should be made to reveal what chemicals it was using at the time of the incident, which occurred in mid-September at a Marcellus Shale gas well-site in Sweden Township.
According to a release from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), isopropanol made up only 10-15 percent of the solution used by JKLM, identified as “F-485” or Rock Drill Oil. The rest of the mixture is listed as “proprietary” on Safety Data Sheets, further stoking residential concerns about the extent of the threat posed to local groundwater and frustration with a perceived lack of official transparency.
Following the September accident, the DEP found the substance used by JKLM was un-approved by regulators. The company was cited for that, as well as polluting waterways and other violations.
In a statement from Jennifer Means, environmental program manager at the DEP, which was sent to Heimel and forwarded by him to The Era, Means says the department’s investigation into the incident is ongoing.
An attempt to reach the DEP for additional comment and response to the commissioners’ public meeting request was unsuccessful Monday.
In her statement, Means said the DEP has reportedly sampled 14 private water supplies thus far, adding, “We have just completed our second round of sampling at six of those water supplies. Results from this round of sampling will not be available for a number of weeks.”
Additional testing was conducted by JKLM, which sampled approximately 123 individual water sources, many of those multiple times, according to state officials.
In a release from the company issued last week, a JKLM spokesperson said only one or two of the sources tested continue to show levels of contamination.
On its end, the DEP says it will continue to sample, and require JKLM to sample, local water sources, “until we do not believe it is necessary to continue based on the sample results received.”
She adds, “It is too early in the investigation to speculate as to when that might be."
Meanwhile, the Potter County Commissioners are hoping new information will clear-up public misconceptions around the investigation and about any risks still posed by the industrial accident.